Two Shawnee Mission area legislators are part of an effort brewing in the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development committee to address workplace harassment and bullying in state government.
Overland Park Rep. Stephanie Clayton on Tuesday introduced a bill in committee that would provide protections and a formal complaint process for state employees who feel they’ve been harassed, discriminated against or bullied. The move, which Clayton, who is a Republican, believes has broad support from committee members across the political spectrum, comes in response to a string of revelations in recent months about workplace harassment and threats of retaliation for coming forward.
In December, the Topeka Capital-Journal revealed that an administrator with Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services had offered a woman a job in return for sex. This month, the paper noted a pattern of sexual harassment by an attorney working for the Kansas Department of Revenue.
Clayton said the “bullying and nastiness that’s been going on at state agencies” needs to be addressed, and that the bill — which is expected to be released in draft form today — would put positive protections in place for state workers.
In addition to protections for sexual harassment, the bill would also formalize protections for LGBTQI state employees that were removed by Gov. Sam Brownback in 2015.
Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, a Democrat from Prairie Village who also serves on the committee, said he believes the idea has momentum, but that it will be up to chair Les Mason of McPherson whether it is allowed to move forward.
“I think there would be some serious explaining to do if he doesn’t allow us to work that bill,” Stogsdill said. “But that is a problem here in Topeka, is the power of chairs to override will of the committee.”
Stogsdill said the time has come for the state to get serious about addressing workplace harassment in government agencies.
“This has been going on too long, and we haven’t addressed it effectively,” he said. “The topic up here is very relevant. Not just in Topeka or the state, but across the nation.”